Since 2002, Madagascar has been paid in Ariary (MGA) and no longer in Franc malgache (FMG). Just as in Germany a few people still convert to DM, some Madagascans still write FMG on their price tables – the conversion works as follows: 5 FMG = 1 MGA. If a price on the street seems unrealistically high, it is worth asking for the currency. Hotels and restaurants now generally charge in Ariary, and may offer a second card with FMG.
The largest Madagascan banknote has a value of 20,000 Ariary (5-6 euros depending on the exchange rate) and has only been in circulation since 1st of July 2017. The now second largest Ariary note is worth 10,000 Ariary, and there are also 1000, 500 and 200 Ariary notes. The smallest note is worth only 100 Ariary (less than 5 cents). The corresponding coins have values of 50, 20,10, 5, 4, 2 and 1 Ariary. The special feature of the Madagascan coin is that 1 Ariary does not correspond to 100 smaller units, here Iraimbilanja, as usual. Instead, 1 Ariary is equivalent to 5 Iraimbilanja. The two smallest coins are 1 and 2 Iraimbilanja. Coin money is only used in large cities in Madagascar. As a rule, you pay everywhere with bills. If you come to more remote areas or small villages, some of the notes look so worn out that you can only guess the color. Even with such bills you can pay in Madagascar without any problems. In the countryside you should carry small banknotes. In some markets it can happen that nobody can change 10,000 Ariary.
As of 01st January 2020, the old banknotes used until 2017 can no longer be used in normal payment transactions. However, it is still possible to exchange the old banknotes in Malagasy banks for new, valid ones.
Currency exchange and payment options
In Europe it is not possible to change euros into the Malagasy currency. However, you can exchange money directly at the airport Ivato in Antananarivo: Either at the designated counter in the waiting area of the international flights or outside at the bank directly opposite of the parking lot. You will then receive a brown paper bag with the exchanged money, from which you should immediately remove the money and distribute it in your luggage.
Currency exchange is otherwise possible in cities at the various banks (Bank of Africa, BNI, BFV Société generale, BMOI) or at special agencies (e.g. SOCIMAD). Some hotels also offer currency exchange, but usually at a worse exchange rate. Ariary can only be returned at the airport in Antananarivo and some banks in the capital. Only even amounts are exchanged, as the counters do not have European coins. So you’ll get change back in Ariary.
Cash, credit cards, cheques
Cash is king! This is all the more true in Madagascar. In principle, everything is paid in cash.
Credit cards are rarely accepted in Madagascar – and if so, Visa rather than Mastercard. This is mainly due to the fact that the cards often cannot be checked by the Madagascans due to a lack of functioning fixed network lines. Cash withdrawals are only available in the capital Antananarivo and other major cities on the island. The amount of cash to withdraw is very limited (usually 400,000 Ariary), and not all machines work. Many ATMs also have a weekly limit for withdrawals, which is usually less than € 500. Mastercard is only accepted by BNI.
Cheques are not common in Madagascar, and similarly credit cards cannot be used to pay in restaurants, hotels and shops. Transfers to Madagascar e.g. via Western Union from Europe are possible, but expensive and time-consuming.